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Gustavsson carries the load, as Leafs lose in Ottawa

After Monday night’s win, some were speculating that the Leafs were back on the right track. That’s likely a less popular point of view now.

That said, most nights this season when the Leafs have lost, they have not been blown out.  We’re not seeing scores like 8-2 on a regular basis.  When you see those outcomes, fans rightly wonder if changes need to be made, starting behind the bench.  But we’re not seeing blow-outs.

They have generally, compared with the last few seasons, tightened up defensively.  I don’t think we can say they have taken many nights off as a team.  And they are still a young squad.  Yet not many Leaf fans are satisfied with the results so far this season.

Saturday night, they, again, had their chances—Bozak, Kadri, among others when it was still close in the second period.  Kessel with an open net in the third, a shot he usually knocks in.

Some nights those shots go in, and then it’s a totally different game— and likely a different outcome.

In addition to missing their scoring touch on some nights, there are times when decision-making has caused problems, too.  For example, Lebda’s pinch (and no one covering for him) when it was 2-0 led directly to making it 3-0, and it was lights out for the Leafs.  I know people have been down on Lebda, but he has skill and I think he can make plays.  Unfortunately for him, he has been in and out of the line up.  When that happens, confidence becomes a fragile thing and a player’s decision-making can be impacted.

So far this season, when the Leafs take a step forward and fans get a bit revved up, the team seems to take two steps back.

This weekend was yet another example of that.

A year ago, Leaf fans were apoplectic about the state of goaltending in Leafland.  The much-heralded rookie, Gustavsson, had shown flashes but was mostly trying to deal with health setbacks.  When Giguere arrived, he played some good hockey but few seemed to be thinking he was a long-term answer, myself among them.

Now, as we turn to December, two months into the new season, Giguere held down the number-one job until an injury knocked him out.  Gustavsson, who was playing infrequently, has now showed he can play and carry the load, at least to this point.

Few are pointing fingers at Toronto’s goaltending when assessing the why’s and wherefore’s of the club’s 8-11-3 record after 22 games.  Yes, Giguere gave up that rather soft marker in a one-goal loss shortly before he went down with the groin strain, but by and large folks are not laying any woes at the feet of the goalies— though Giggy’s save percentage is not what we might like to see.

On the other hand, Gustavsson, while not perfect, has been pretty darn good.  He has made some timely saves when the Leafs are holding onto a lead, or gamely trying to get back into the picture.  If the last few games have shown anything, it would seem to be that he can withstand playing a number of NHL games in succession.  How long before he would tire or break down, I don’t know.  But so far, so good.

As I’ve posted before, it will be interesting to see what Wilson does upon Giggy’s return.  He was the undisputed number one before the injury and Wilson went to great pains to publicly pronounce there would be no goaltending controversy, though he added “who knows?” about the possibility of Gustavsson stealing the job during Giguere’s absence.

But while the team won some games, they haven’t gone on a full-scale winning streak.  So it’s not like inserting Giguere back into the line-up would derail some kind of momentum.

Another interesting twist will be seeing whether Toronto’s goaltending will hold up if and when the team begins to score on a regular basis.  Often times when teams struggle, the goaltenders play well when the scorers aren’t scoring, and when the team gets hot offensively, the goaltending and defense breaks down.

For this Leaf team, the difference between winning and losing on most nights is pretty thin.  They generally need all facets of their game clicking to be successful—including, of course, special teams, a problem yet again as this season wears on.

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